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Archive for the ‘Comic Book Movies’ Category

It was recently announced that Jill Soloway has been hired to write and direct an adaptation of Red Sonja, a film that seems to have been in development forever!  Robert Rodriguez announced at Comic-Con in 2008 that he intended to make a version of the story with then partner Rose McGowan is the title role.   He never got beyond a poster and concept art.  It was reported a couple of years later that he had failed to raise the required funding to get the movie off the ground.  The  underperformance of Conan the Barbarian (2011) probably didn’t help.  Then in 2011, Empire reported that Simon West (Con Air) had been hired to direct and Amber Heard was favourite for the lead ahead of Megan Fox and Rachel Nichols.  I haven’t heard anything since.Rose McGowan Red Sonja

I don’t know much about Jill Soloway whose writing and directing seems to be more TV than film.  The most notable thing about the appointment is that Soloway appears to be the first woman who has been linked with the job.  It seems something of a no-brainer to appoint a female director to helm the story of a strong woman.  The comic book as has been written by women for several years now, Gail Simone since 2013 and Amy Chu since 2017; more about that later.

This isn’t the first time the character has been filmed, Red Sonja (1985) was directed by Richard Fleischer and starred Brigitte Nielsen in the title role, and Arnold Schwarzenegger in a supporting role that was Conan in all but name (for contractual reasons), Schwarzenegger got top billing (probably also for contractual reasons)!  A year earlier Fleischer had made Conan the Destroyer with Schwarzenegger.  Sadly the film isn’t very good, largely due to weak script and bad acting. Red Sonja 1985

The character of Sonja is often credited as being created by Robert E. Howard, which is technically true, but the character owes as much if not more her comic book creators.  Red Sonya of Rogatino appeared in Robert E. Howard’s pulp short story “The Shadow of the Vulture” originally published in The Magic Carpet Magazine, January 1934. The story was a fictional story set in set in the 16th century around the real life Battle of Mohács and the Siege of Vienna in 1529.   Starting as a supporting character, she didn’t appear until  Chapter four of seven, she then became the co-lead for the rest of the story.  Fans of her comic book persona will be familiar with her famous scale mail bikini, but the character described by Howard dresses very differently:

“It was a woman, dressed as Von Kalmbach not seen even the dandies of France dressed. She was tall splendidly shaped, but lithe. From under a steel Escape rebellious stresses that rippled red gold in the sun over A compact shoulders. High boots of Cordovan leather came to her mid-thighs, which were cased in baggy breeches. She wore a shirt fine Turkish mash-mail tucked into her breeches. Her supple waist was confined by a flowing sash of green silk, into which with thrust a brace of pistols and a dagger, and from which depended along Hungarian Sabre. Overall was carelessly throwing a scarlet cloak.”shadowofthevulture

In 1973 Roy Thomas and Barry Smith re-imagined the character introducing her into the Conan Comics.  Published by Marvel Comics, her first appetence came in Conan the Barbarian #23.  The story was largely the same as The Shadow of the Vulture but transposing it to the Hyborian Age and with Conan taking the place of Gottfried von Kalmbach.  Shortly after this, artist Esteban Maroto is credited with creating “metal bikini” look when he submitted “an un-commissioned illustration” for Savage Sword of Conan that he considered to resemble other female characters of the time.  After a couple of years of guest appearances in Conan comics, she had her own publication that is still going today following a couple of reboots. Marvel_Feature_1_(1975)

Some of the historic storytelling is a little problematic with.  In one version of her origin, her family is killed and she is brutally raped.  The red goddess Scáthach appears to her, and gives her the strength and skill to get her revenge.  The ability came with the condition that she never lie with a man unless he defeats her in fair combat. Gail Simone rebooted the character in 2013, in this series , Sonja was neither raped, nor received her ability from a goddess, thus not making her vow of chastity.  Instead she learned to fight as a gladiator.  Her appearance that many may find problematic is brushed away in one of her early stories; when told: “Your armour, woman – it scarcely protects your modesty, let alone your vitals” she responds: “men are easily distracted. Most of them never even noticed my sword… Until their heads roll off their neck’s.”wonder woman gal gadot

What can we expect from a Red Sonja movie?  With over 40 years of comic books to work with there is plenty of stories within the source material.  As with the MCU, the best approach will be to develop a new story within the character from the comics, but not faithfully adapt a story.  I would also suggest we jump right into a fully fledged character, we have seen far too many origin stories in recent years. No word on casting yet.  It is crucial they get it right.  At 6’1″ Brigitte Nielsen looked the part in the earlier film, but didn’t have the acting ability to deliver the lines.  When Wonder Woman was cast a few years ago, there were fan suggestions for Gina Carano.  While she would have been great at the action, Gal Gadot is the better actress and is surprisingly perfect in the role.  I like the idea of an unknown actor getting the part, but suspect a studio will want/need a big name to sell the film.  And that will be the tricky thing.  Films like this worked in the 70’s and 80’s on a tiny budget, but haven’t fared as well as blockbusters.  And that is what it needs to be, a blockbuster.  Following the end of Game of Thrones, and the appetite it has created, there is probably no better time for a new sword-and-sandal’s franchise. 

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Captain Marvel has some great 90’s songs on the soundtrack:

  • Crazy on You – Heart
  • Kiss Me Deadly – Lita Ford
  • Whatta Man – Salt-N-Pepa ft. En Vogue
  • Connection – Elastica
  • Only Happy When It Rains – Garbage
  • Crush With Eyeliner – R.E.M.
  • Waterfalls – TLC
  • You Gotta Be – Des’ree
  • Come As You Are – Nirvana
  • Just A Girl – No Doubt
  • Man on the Moon – R.E.M.
  • Celebrity Skin – Hole

But as pointed out by The Empire Podcast, Carol Danvers wouldn’t know them if she heard them.  In his second outing, The Winter Soldier, Captain America kept a notebook where he made note of things he had missed in the near 60 years he was frozen.  At the time I ran a Blogathon where participants recommended movies made between 1943 and 2011.  I don’t have time to run a Blogathon, so am just making my own recommendations this time, my favourite albums from 1989 to 1995:

1989199019911992199319941995

I chose six for each year simply because they fitted in the grid better than five.  Most years I could have come up with ten!  If I was struggling to choose, I favoured albums I loved at the time over ones I discovered later.  Here are a few bonus picks that didn’t make the top six but I didn’t want to omit:Bonus Picks

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I’m sure you all know about The Bechdel Test.  In its simplest form there are three criteria:

  1. The movie has to have at least two women in it,
  2. who talk to each other,
  3. about something besides a man

I have never stopped to consider how the MCU (Marvel Cinematic Universe) fares under this criteria, probably not that well simply for its lack of significant female characters.  As phase three comes to an end, the two most significant women in the MCU are about to meet. thor-captain-marvel-endgame-1200x676

It’s taken the MCU ten years and twenty movies to give a female character a leading role.  Even the DCEU (DC Extended Universe) managed it more quickly with Wonder Woman (2017) being the fourth, and best (some may say the only good) of their movies.  Fortunately this will all be forgotten as Captain Marvel is very good and performing well at the box-office.  However, this puts the sexual politics of the MCU in a precarious place.  They have introduced a character that billed as the most powerful Avenger, a character anyone could be jealous of.  If you have seen the mid credit sequence in Captain Marvel, or the trailer for Avengers Endgame, you will know that Carol Danvers and Natasha Romanoff are about to meet.  How they react to each other is more significant than anyone has given it credit for.  star lord thor

Peter Quill’s jealousy of Thor when they meet is classic Hollywood, except the protagonists are usually two rival women.  As a scenario it is funny, partly for how it is played, but mainly because it is unusual  to see two men react in such a way.  Any amusement or progressive about this would be undone should Danvers and Romanoff react to each other in a similar way.  Let’s hope the writers, Christopher Markus & Stephen McFeely and directors Anthony and Joe Russo have considered this and the charters hit it off immediately.     

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Warning Contains Spoilers

This is not a review of Captain Marvel, but will contain opinions on the film and plot details (for Captain Marvel and other movies).  My greatest fear for the character is that she will turn into Superman.  Not that she will turn into a man (the original comic book Captain Marvel aka Mar-Vell was a man), although that would also be a disaster, there are proportionally far too many men in superhero movies!  The issue is that Superman’s power and ability are too great, and any real peril he faces is by definition contrived.  Captain-Marvel-international-poster-1724182

Captain Marvel is the trickiest of things in a comic book movie, an origin story.  On this level it works well, concentrating on one small time period, by the end of the movie we realise these few days are not the exactly the origin of the character but Carol Danvers rebirth as Captain Marvel.  The film is at its best when it is a mismatched buddy movie with Brie Larson and Samuel L. Jackson as Danvers and Nick Fury (brilliantly, digitally de-aged).  It has fun with its 90’s setting rather than revel in it, and has some great music cues.  The plot doesn’t always go where you expect, and is largely satisfying.  The cgi heavy final act isn’t as strong as the rest of the movie, but does at least depart from the overused rehash that so many comic book movies use as a fallback.  Larson is perfect casting playing the part with just enough cynicism and cockiness with a constant wry grin.  All in all, it is a fun introduction to the character.Captain Marvel nick fury

But anyone who has seen the film will know, by the end Carol Danvers looks like she could kick Superman’s ass!  This type of power is an ongoing problem in making Superman movies interesting.  Around five years after the introduction of Superman in comic books, creator Jerry Siegel came up with an “Achilles’ heel” that would weaken him, Kryptonite.  In Superman II (1981), Superman III (1983) and Superman Returns (2006), the character is all powerful and indestructible until the use of Kryptonite levels the playing field for a while.  Superman II (1981) is possibly the best movie to feature the character as it pits him against adversaries of similar ability to Superman.  the other contender for the best Superman movie was the 1978 Richard Donner origin story.  This has the same advantage as Captain Marvel; as an origin story it spends a lot of time in Smallville not needing to de-power Superman.

Both the power Captain Marvel exhibits and the events of the film result in a situation with only one possible outcome, she had to leave earth and stay away from the MCU until the events of the first twenty movies had played out.  If you are reading this you have most likely seen the film and stayed for the scene during the closing credits.  It comes as no great surprise that Danvers returns following Nick Fury’s pager message.  This sets the scene for her involvement in Avengers: Endgame, which is sure to be significant.  More than that, has probably been planned for some time.  When all else has failed, she is the obvious choice to take on Thanos.  But where does her cinematic future lie?

One of my favourite MCU movies is Captain America: The Winter Soldier, The film is very much like a 70’s conspiracy thriller, it does have a plot problem.  The final act is a typical MCU (or DCEU for that matter) movie, with a large object above a major city threatening the safety of said city, or even the world.  As part of the inevitable heroics to save the day by The Avengers, Sam Wilson aks Falcon has to perform tasks that are near impossible, but that would have been easy for Iron Man (even easier for Captain Marvel).  This isn’t much of an issue when you are watching the film excitement of the movie, but the more you think about it the more glaring the contrivances are. Captain-America-Winter-Soldier-captain-america-38170916-2880-1800

So does this limit Carol Danver/Captain Marvel’s involvement in the MCU to intergalactic adventures (we have the Guardians of the Galaxy for that), and stepping in when all else is lost?  Given the tendency  to give the main characters three of their own movies, they will need to find at least two more stories to tell.  The MCU’s record with sequels isn’t great, Iron Man 2 and Thor: The Dark World are poor movies.  All the other second movies in a series are inferior to the first, all except one, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, the best of the Captain America movies and  possibly the best MCU movie.  Given the usual pattern of releases the next instalment should be two or three years away. 

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The Bat-Man, created by artist Bob Kane and writer Bill Finger first appeared in Detective Comics #27, in 1939.  Described as the World’s Greatest Detective, and written in the style of the pulp crime novels and comic books of the day.  He soon became the Batman we know today.  But why am I writing about this now? You may have heard that Ben Affleck has hung up his cowl and cape for the final time, he will not appear in The Batman, a film originally announced in 2014 for release around, well, now!  The story appears to have gone through many changes, and is now slated for a summer 2021 release.  DC/Warner are describing the film as “character-driven” and “stylistically noir”, this gives an opportunity for a more interesting Batman, a period set movie.  There is no word on casting yet, but that isn’t a major concern as they have never really got the casting wrong; Michael Keaton, Christian Bale were in the best films.  Val Kilmer was a strange choice but OK in a poor film.  We will never know how good or bad George Clooney could have been, no one could have saved that film!  And Ben Affleck was actually good, all be it, in two terrible films.  It’s all about getting the story right. DC no 27 1939

There are multiple reasons for setting the film in the past, most notably, it will take it away from the Justice League.  Just as importantly, as the gaps between reboots gets ever smaller, it is a close as possible treat one of the most recognisable properties as a new character.  When it could be set is not limited by when it was created: Prohibition (1920-1933) was the golden age of gangsters; the war years could incorporate more of a spy story, as could the cold war years.  The other reason for the setting the movie in the past is simple, style.  Imagine a Batmobile based on a sleek 1940’s car!  Or even the gadgets! Give Batman things that exist today, with a throwaway line about how everyone will be using them in a few years.  This gets over the issue that Batman and so many other film and TV, Like Star Trek have; gadgets often look ridiculously unrealistic when we first see them, and horribly dated a generation later. Batmobile.jpg

Setting a comic book film in the past isn’t a big stretch, it isn’t as if it hasn’t been done before; The Shadow (1994) and The Phantom (1996), both set in the 1930’s are fun but flawed.  The Rocketeer (1991), aslo set in the late 30’s is a really fun film that stands up really well today.  More recently  Captain America: The First Avenger (2011), and Wonder Woman (2017), largely set during WWII and WWI respectively, are both brilliant.  We can also look at Tim Burton’s take on Batman (1989), it has a sort of timeless period look; Gotham City, benefiting from being a studio backlot set is a mix of German Expressionism and Art Deco design.  The cars are mostly from the 70’s.  The Gangsters dress like they are from the 30’s and carry Thompson submachine guns, the cops look like they are from the 40’s or 50’sgotham 1989

Finally we need a villain.  Every comic book movie succeeds or fails on how good the bad guy is. There have been four great Batman movies to date (in my opinion – other opinions are welcome, but wrong) Batman (1989) Batman Returns (1992), Batman Begins (2005), and The Dark Knight (2008).  They all had one common denominator, a great villain, or two.  If setting film in the past, you not only need to make the villain fit the hero, but also the era of the film.  This isn’t an issue for Batman as most of the best villains were created years ago.  The antagonist needs to a recognisable one, so not too much of a deep-dive that only fanboys will get. Any reboot, needs to avoid The Joker; we have had two great versions of him, and there is a new stand alone Joker on the way too.  Two-Face has been done twice now in recent years, let’s give him a rest.  The Penguin was done so well in Batman Returns, it would be a big ask to do him again.  The Riddler would be an excellent choice if someone could make him work the way Heath Ledger did with the Joker.  I would say it’s too soon to use Ra’s al Ghul, but he could work well in a period setting.  Finally three that haven’t been used in a live action movie: Mad Hatter, Black Mask, and Hugo Strange. Ra's al Ghul Mad Hatter Black Mask and Hugo Strange

We all know that DC and Warner will play it safe and give us the standard reboot, just as long as we don’t have another origin, I think we have all seen Martha and Thomas get killed too many times!

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We lost Stan Lee this week at the age of 95.  Many people first became aware of him from his cameo’s in Marvel movies, but his impact on popular culture goes far beyond that:  For better or worse, make your own mind up; without Stan Lee we probably wouldn’t be seeing all the comic book movies that are dominating cinema screens.  Like many people I first became aware of him from the animated shows of the 1980’s.  These animated show were the start of a push to develop Marvel properties into other media.  Initial results were mixed at best but eventually led to what we now know as the MCU (Marvel Cinematic Universe). Stan Lee 1922 2018

But it all started before that, growing up Lee born (Stanley Martin Lieber) loved swashbuckling movies, and dreamt of becoming a novelist.  One of his earliest jobs as a writer came writing obituaries before at the age of 17 a family connection got him a job as an assistant at Timely Comics, the precursor Marvel Comics was at the time a new division of a pulp magazine.

Lee’s first job actually writing in a comic book came with the text fillers for Captain America Comics #3 in 1941.  This was the first time he used the pseudonym Stan Lee, which later became his legal name.  Before long he moved from fillers to writing the backup feature, “‘Headline’ Hunter, Foreign Correspondent”.

His early creations Jack Frost, Father Time, and Destroyer may not be household names now, but things were about to change.  At the age of just 19 Lee was made interim editor, a position that quickly became permanent, one that he remained in for just over thirty years before becoming Publisher.  After the war, were Lee served in first the Signal Corps, and then the Training Film Division, he formed a partnership with artist Jack Kirby, together they created a few characters you may have heard of: the X-Men, Iron Man, Thor, the Hulk, Black Panther, Ant-Man, and the Fantastic Four. x men fantastic four thor iron man black panther hulk ant man

He also created Daredevil with Bill Everett. And with Steve Ditko with, Doctor Strange and his (and Marvel’s most successful character) Spider-Man. Doctor Strange Daredevil Spider-man

As significant as the characters they created, in 1963 gathered them together along with some older character, most notably Captain America to create the  Avengers, a rival to DC’s Justice League (originally Justice League of America). With various reboots, relaunches, spin-offs, alternate universes, and ever changing line-up, The Avengers have been a constant fixture within the comic book world.     The Avengers

In 1981 Lee moved from New York to California in 1981 to develop Marvel’s movie and TV, while the live action of these were forgettable at best, the cartoons introduced a whole new generation to Marvel.  They also provided the springboard of what was to come.  The success of Blade for New Line Cinema, X-Men with Fox Studio’s and Sony’s Spider-Man movies proved there was a market for quality comic book movies that snowballed into the MCU, and who knows where that will take us? Excelsior!

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The beginning of the end is near.  The next movie in the MCU, Avengers: Infinity War is less than a month away.  That will just leave Ant-Man and the Wasp, Captain Marvel (a prequel to existing films rather than a continuation), and then an as yet untitled Avengers film, with it Phase Three will be over.  And with the end of Phase Three we will potentially see the end of some of the characters.  It has been reported that the following actors intend to hang-up their super hero costumes next year: Chris Evans (Steve Rogers aka Captain America), Robert Downey Jr. (Tony Stark aka Iron Man), Chris Hemsworth (Thor). Chris Evans Robert Downey Jr Chris Hemsworth

This will leave just Tom Holland (Peter Parker aka Spider-Man), and Chadwick Boseman (T’Challa aka Black Panther) as the only remaining Avengers deemed significant enough to have their own films.  They will be joined by any surviving cast.  They can’t simply recast, this will be conspicuous at best, disastrous at worst.  There is another answer within the existing cast: Natalie Portman (Jane Foster), Sebastian Stan (Bucky Barnes aka The Winter Soldier aka White Wolf), Don Cheadle (Lieutenant James Rhodes aka War Machine).Natalie Portman Sebastian Stan Don Cheadle

In the comic books on which the MCU is based, these characters have all taken on the part of other heroes: Bucky Barnes – Captain America, James Rhodes – Iron Man, Jane Foster – Thor. Bucky Barnes Captain America Don Cheadle Iron Man Jane Foster Thor

There have been many other incarnations of the comic books where existing characters have taken on the mantle of other heroes, they include Sam Wilson aka Falcon as Captain America and Natasha Romanoff aka Black Widow as Thor. Sam Wilson Captain America and Natasha Romanoff Thor

You may remember the scene in Avengers: Age of Ultron when the Avengers take it in turns to try and lift Mjolnir, all except  Black Widow, should this tell us something?

Having said all this, they could just introduce some new characters! 

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